A new system of ice-making in Slave Lake’s Multi Rec Centre (MRC) looks as if it will deliver the lower costs that it promised. But if what we’re hearing is accurate, it’s much more than that.
“People are saying it’s the best ice they’ve ever skated on,” says Wayne Bacon, who returned recently to ice-making for the own as the lead hand at the MRC.
Town council got some eyebrow-raising news about the REALice system at its Aug. 8 meeting. With REALice now in use for a few weeks, the ice plant is now running just 30 hours a week. That’s less than half the time it would run under the old system. REALice allows for the use of cooler water in ice floods, rather than the traditional hot water.
Just one ice surface is installed at the moment. Assuming double the plant run time when both are in use, it would still be 100 hours per week less work for the plant.
“The system will result in substantial savings in electricity and natural gas,” says the report for council by CAO Jeff Simpson.
The ice plant doesn’t have to work as hard because there’s no hurry to freeze the hot flood. Bacon says wet ice when players return to the ice after the between-period flooding is a thing of the past. Not only that, he says, the quality of the ice is different. It’s faster, and it holds up better.
So what’s the secret? There doesn’t appear to be a lot to it. The trick for making cold floods work lies in removing tiny air bubbles from the water before it’s put down. This is accomplished by a device that spins the water around, forcing the bubbles out. Bacon says the system is only a couple of years old, but it is catching on fast.
Andy Meth, the new Slave Lake Icedogs’ coach, has played and coached all over, but encountered REALice in Slave Lake for the first time last week. He says it impressed him particularly because summer ice is often soft and wet.
“It stays firm,” he says. “The snow doesn’t build up on it.”
Local hockey coach Dwain Hill has had some kids out on the ice lately, skating hard and says he’s never seen the ice in Slave Lake as good as it is right now.
“No ruts,” he says. “It’s crazy!”
Bacon likes the new ice so much he agreed to do a video testimonial, which people have been watching on the REALice website. He says he’s been getting calls from all over from arena operators, asking him about it. One was from Iqaluit, which has also switched over. From having to run the plant at 14F, it’s now able to maintain the ice at 22F – a big saving in power cost for the northern community. Bacon says the MRC plant is set at 21F, up from 17F in the hot water flooding days. The boiler that used to heat the water for floods doesn’t have much to do anymore. Bacon said it used to cost $385 per day to run it during the ice season.
MRC lead hand Wayne Bacon points to the REALice ‘vortex generator,’ located in the Zamboni room at the MRC.